OLYMPIA - Washington's Legislature now has enough votes to legalize gay marriage.
Democratic Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen says she will support the measure, becoming the 25th vote needed to pass the bill out of the Senate. The House already has enough support, and Gov. Chris Gregoire has endorsed the plan.
“I’ve had hundreds of very heartfelt, sincere letters,” Haugen told KING 5 News. “I’ve had letters that are threatening and other letters that aren’t so pleasant, but I’m Christian, and I don’t believe it’s my right to judge other people, and I really try to live by the Golden Rule, and I believe I’m following my faith at this point. I really think it’s the right thing to do."
Supporters and opponents of the bill packed a Senate hearing Monday morning.
“I have waited 17 years to ask this body to consider marriage equality for gay and lesbian families,” said bill sponsor, Sen. Ed Murray.
“This bill is about people who love and cherish each other and wish to honor that commitment,” said Murray. “It also creates an absolute exemption for religious organizations and clergy that do not wish to marry same sex couples.”
Sixteen-year-old Brennen Smith told the story of his gay parents, and the household he grew up in – which included 30 foster children.
"Child rape victims, drug affected families, incarcerated parents, parents with extreme mental health issues and victims of childhood neglect. I wonder why these parents, even though they are incapable of providing a safe and stable household, can marry an infinite amount of times while mine cannot marry once," he said.
“My house is proof that the stability and quality of a couple's parenting has nothing to do with the combination of their genders,” he said.
Opponents were just as vocal, speaking out against same sex marriage.
“If you pass this bill you are just as narrow minded, you're just as bigoted and you're just as unloving to everything and anyone who wants to get married outside of one man, woman and two men and two women,” said Pastor Ken Hutcherson, Antioch Bible Church.
“The state has long recognized the societal benefits of promoting strong families because they establish a framework for healthy permanent male, female relationships,” said Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.
Some threatened to fight the bill with a referendum, if it's passed.
“I am confident that this state, like every other state, that has had the option will weigh the evidence and ultimately conclude that moms and dads do matter,” said Joseph Backholm, Family Policy Institute.
At the House hearing on HB 2516 Monday afternoon, Gov. Chris Gregoire's legislative director, Jim Justin, said Gregoire believes it's time to give same sex couples the right to receive a marriage license, the same right given heterosexual couples.
Justin said the governor believes there's simply no legitimate state interest in denying same sex couples a marriage license.
"It is the responsibility of the state to license, while it's the right of a church to decide whom to marry, and we belieive this billmakes it very clear the state will honor the religious freedom," he said.
While gay marriage bills have been introduced in Washington state before, this is the first time the issue received a public hearing.
Opponents say they will collect signatures to take the issue to voters via a referendum, which requires fewer signatures on a petition in order to make it to the ballot.
Washington state has had a domestic partnership law since 2007, and a so-called "everything but marriage" law since 2009.
Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia. Lawmakers in New Jersey and Maryland are expected to debate gay marriage this year as well.
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